What PICARD got right…and DISCOVERY and JJ TREK got wrong! (editorial review)

SURPRISINGLY FEW SPOILERS…

I had almost forgotten the feeling. Maybe that’s because it’s been 15 years since I’ve felt it.

I used to get the feeling often when watching Star Trek episodes. They’d end, and I’d go “WOW” or (as when Riker said “Fire!” followed by the words “To be continued”) I’d just want to see more…NOW!

There were episodes of Next Gen and DS9 that left me feeling proud to be a Star Trek fan, like I was being treated to carefully crafted masterpieces like “The Inner Light” or “Sacrifice of Angels.” Even Voyager and many episodes of Enterprise‘s final season had this effect on me. Star Trek was exciting, fun, thoughtful, brilliant even…and these episodes always left me feeling happy and satisfied with my decision to dedicate so much of my life to this grand sci-fi franchise.

And then the feeling just…stopped.

I really wanted to like the 2009 JJ Abrams Star Trek movie reboot. The ingredients all seemed to be there. But that movie completely missed the mark for me. Star Trek Into Darkness frustrated me even more. And while Star Trek Beyond had a few moments, the feeling of excitement and satisfaction just wasn’t there. I spent more time complaining about unbelievable and illogical plot holes, wondering why Khan was suddenly a white guy, and trying to figure out why a small starship needed to carry a motorcycle and a Beastie Boys soundtrack.

And Discovery only seemed to worsen the situation. I suffered through most of the first season. And while the second season improved noticeably, when each episode ended, I still wasn’t feeling like I wanted more…like I was truly satisfied with what I’d just watched. I wasn’t feeling proud to be a Star Trek fan anymore—at least not with this new series. And most of the Short Treks, while enjoyable, didn’t spark that old feeling either.

Fifteen years.
Three blockbuster movies.
Ten Short Treks.
Twenty-nine episodes of Star Trek: Discovery.

And all I felt was “meh.” I actually had to frequently remind myself why I was sticking with the new releases from the franchise rather than jumping (star)ship as many other disillusioned fans were claiming to have done.

But with just a single episode of the new STAR TREK: PICARD series, the feeling is back, baby, and as strong as it’s ever been! How the heck did that happen???

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What would GENE RODDENBERRY have thought about SHORT TREKS “Children of Mars”? (editorial review)

There can be spoilers…just for one blog!

Wow.

I just finished watching the sixth and final SHORT TREKS of the second round of mini-episodes (do we call them “seasons”?). The shortest of all of the Short Treks thus far, the episode runs only 6 minutes and 47 seconds before the closing credits roll. But it’s time well-utilized!

It’s hard to know what to say first. In these editorial review blogs, I try not to just parrot what all of the other reviewers are saying because…what’s the point? Most reviewers are offering a summary of the episode. If you want that (and don’t mind the spoilers), then check out this review for a short summary or this review for a much more detailed recounting.

Many reviewers are concentrating on the kick-in-the-gut feel of the attack on Mars, and that was very obvious. This incident is going to be a paradigm shift for the Federation …just as the December 7, 1941 Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and the terrorist destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 were for the United States and the world. Nothing would ever be the same again. After “Children of Mars,” the date that will live in infamy will be April 5—First Contact Day—and the culprits won’t be a foreign Pacific power or Middle Eastern extremists but these mysterious “Synths” (whatever they are).

A few folks are complaining that the starships at Utopia Planitia look more like movie-era or even Discovery-era designs rather than 24th century vessels. And yeah, the VFX guys probably kept things cheap and used the models they had on hand. Others complained that it was never really explained why these two girls initially hated each other (was it all just over a shoulder bump?), although I don’t think that was important for us to know. The impact of the story wasn’t why they were fighting so much as what made them stop.

So no, I’m not going to rehash any of that. Instead I am going to say something totally provocative and controversial:

I think GENE RODDENBERRY would have hated “Children of Mars” being presented as Star Trek.

And even more controversial:

I also think he would have been dead wrong!

Okay, let’s begin…

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Two new ANIMATED SHORT TREKS and what my 9-YEAR-OLD SON thought of them… (editorial review)

SP-SP-SP-SPOILERS…TURN AWAY OR FACE THE STRAIN!

This past Thursday, CBS All Access released (at least for viewers in the United States) the final two SHORT TREKS for 2019. You can read my reviews of the previous three episodes—“Q&A”, “The Trouble with Edward”, and “Ask Not”—to see that they’ve been a little uneven in quality (at least in my opinion) but generally worth the 8 to 15 minutes of time invested to watch them. Also, there’s one more Short Treks episode scheduled for release on January 9: a STAR TREK: PICARD prequel titled “Children of Mars.”

The final two Short Treks of this year marked Star Trek‘s first return to animation since the animated series aired its final episode 45 years ago on October 12, 1974. (Of course, I’m not counting animated Star Trek fan films, although if you’d like to see some really good ones, might I suggest Star Trek: Aurora, Stalled Trek, and Stone Trek.)

The two new Short Treks—“Ephraim and Dot” and “The Girl Who Made the Stars” were REALLY short—-just under nine minutes and just under eighth minutes respectively. This isn’t surprising, though, as animation is costly to produce both in terms of budget and time. Unlike live action, an extra four minutes for either episode could literally have increased the production budget by nearly 50%.

So what did I think?

Before I answer this question, let me tell you what my nine-year-old son Jayden—a lover of TOS and a current watcher of TNG—thought. This is actually a rather profound question. I have and continue to refuse to show STAR TREK: DISCOVERY to Jayden (with the F-bombs, the Klingon rape scenes, and generally not-for-a-9-year-old content) until he’s much older. In comparison, we LOVED watching the new Lost In Space together on Netflix (season two is just 10 days away!) and are currently enjoying The Mandalorian. As a Trekkie, it was frustrating not to be able to share the new series with my son.

But these two new Short Treks were 100% child-friendly. So having the opportunity to say to Jayden, “Hey, come over here and watch this and tell me what you think…” about the new Star Trek is a new and exciting experience for me.

So what did Jayden think…?

Continue reading “Two new ANIMATED SHORT TREKS and what my 9-YEAR-OLD SON thought of them… (editorial review)”

Why the new SHORT TREKS “Ask Not” shows why there needs to be a CAPTAIN PIKE series! (editorial review)

WARNING! The reading of this blog WITHOUT first watching “Ask Not” WILL ruin an amazing experience for you!

It only took seven minutes and forty-five seconds.

Actually, it took even less time than that. Without the traditional SHORT TREKS opening title sequence, this latest offering of CBS’s series of mini-episodes dropped me immediately into the action. What followed was a whirlwind of masterfully delivered, impactful lines between two very strong characters. One was Captain Christopher Pike, and ANSON MOUNT could be taking a nap in a hammock and I’d still be mesmerized. So imagine what this amazing actor can do when the dialog is flying fast and furious…and lives are at stake.

The other is a brand new character, Cadet Thira Sidhu (played perfectly by Amrit Kaur), a young engineering cadet facing an impossible decision: does she follow Starfleet protocol or trust Pike? The answer is surprising, to say the least! It’s also the culmination of a tense, non-stop five-minute sequence that doesn’t leave the viewer any time or opportunity to ask “Hey, what’s really going on here?” And that was a very, very good thing!

This is where I start spoiling the episode, folks. Seriously, if you haven’t watched it yet, stop reading now, subscribe to All Access for 10 minutes, and watch “Ask Not.” Or if you’re in a country that hasn’t gotten the second series of Short Treks yet, bookmark this blog and come back to it in January. It’s not time-sensitive.

Okay, I warned ya. If you read further, the irreparable damage is all on you…

Continue reading “Why the new SHORT TREKS “Ask Not” shows why there needs to be a CAPTAIN PIKE series! (editorial review)”

SHORT TREKS: The trouble with “THE TROUBLE WITH EDWARD” (editorial review)

SPOILERS…LIKE TRIBBLES…ARE EVERYWHERE!

I’m not sure I can forgive the creators of SHORT TREKS for eternally inserting a connection in my head between actor H. JON BENJAMIN and tribbles. I will never again be able to watch an episode of Bob’s Burgers or another ARBY’s commercial without wondering if those small, furry creatures somehow made it into their food menus. And if I’m ARBY’s, I am not happy right now.

But all kidding aside, I really wish this episode had put all kidding aside…or at least a good deal of it (tribbles do invite comedy, after all). But they didn’t. Short Treks is an experimental medium for CBS, and they’re to be admired for at least trying some new things. But as a fan, I felt the jokes landed as flat as a tribble falling off a desk and dying (something the episode actually mentioned!). And it does make me a little more wary about what kind of content we’ll be seeing from the upcoming new LOWER DECKS animated Star Trek series. If this is the level of humor we’re in for, well, I might be writing a bunch more critical blog reviews. Time will tell.

As with my review yesterday of the first of this season’s Shorts Treks, “Q&A,” I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with this episode…although sadly tipping more into the latter emotion this time out. For anyone who hasn’t had a chance to see the episode and wants to know what the heck I’ll be talking about, here’s an excellent review that includes a summary…along with some of the same annoying points that I’ll be kvetching about.

First, however, I’ll list the positives. I loved seeing Anson Mount‘s Captain Pike, even for just a few seconds. I also found it cool to glimpse a Trill. And it was nice to see the costume department finally getting a chance to create some Starfleet uniforms without the weird single collar.

Um, what else, what else? Let’s see…well, the lighting was lovely. The music was good. The acting was quite decent. And the tribble vacuum cleaner was a nice touch. Oh, and I did like them showing how your generic detractor of just about anything might be created, even two and a half centuries in the future…

But yeah, aside from that, this episode was hard to love….

Continue reading “SHORT TREKS: The trouble with “THE TROUBLE WITH EDWARD” (editorial review)”

“Q&A”: Are SHORT TREKS just elaborate studio-produced FAN FILMS? (editorial review)

SPOILERS A’PLENTY!

On October 5 and five days later on October 10, CBS released the newest two 15-minute episodes of SHORT TREKS to All Access subscribers in America (sorry, rest of the world): “Q and A” and “The Trouble with Edward”…or as I like to call them: the latest two fan films from CBS.

CBS was actually rather quiet about marketing the debut of these two Short Treks, releasing the first on the same Saturday they announced it would be available (during a presentation at New York Comic Con) and the second during Thursday Night Football later that week. In fact, the rest of the Short Treks will also be premiering during Thursday Night Football (as will STAR TREK: PICARD) because that’s when the majority of All Access subscribers are watching (don’t ask me how I know that). Here’s the schedule for the remaining new Short Treks:

  • Ask Not” – Thursday, Nov. 14
  • The Girl Who Made the Stars” – Thursday, Dec. 12
  • Ephraim and Dot” – Thursday, Dec. 12
  • Children of Mars” – Thursday, Jan. 9

Because CBS is targeting the sports viewers of All Access with these “15-minute commercials” more than they are the hard core fans, many folks weren’t even aware that Short Treks had already debuted. In fact, I took an informal poll on the Fan Film Forum Facebook group and discovered that 40% of our responding members had no idea any new Short Treks were available….

But since these two episodes have, indeed, been released, how about we do a good ol’ editorial review? Or rather, let’s make it a two-parter since there were two Short Treks

Continue reading ““Q&A”: Are SHORT TREKS just elaborate studio-produced FAN FILMS? (editorial review)”

First STAR TREK, then THE EXPANSE, now THE ORVILLE…is this the beginning of the end for “free” TV sci-fi???

Before I begin, let me explain that the purpose of this unique blog is to bring folks up to speed about what the HECK is going on with all of these new streaming TV services that are suddenly appearing like clowns getting out of a Volkswagen. I’m going to focus mainly on how this is affecting the sci-fi genre of television shows…although the impact is pretty much across the board. Then I want to explain why it’s happening so fast, why it’s not going away anytime soon, and then speculate on where this is all heading in the future.

I began working on this blog a month ago when Seth MacFarlane announced the The Orville would be moving from the FOX broadcasting network to behind a paywall at Hulu. Since then, I’ve been researching like crazy! And each time I thought I’d gotten the blog finished, there’d be more “BIG” streaming announcements from folks like NBCUniversal and, just last week, Disney. Eventually, though, I just needed to pull the trigger…knowing that parts of this blog are gonna be old news almost as soon as I hit “Publish.”

I do want to apologize if this is a longer blog than usual, but there’s just SO much going on, and I want to help you folks process it all like I just managed to do…mostly. Also, I’m going to focus mainly on America only because, once you head internationally, the shows and services all shift around and this poor blog would be six times as long!

Remember when automated teller machines (ATMs) first started being installed at banks? I can’t remember if it was still the 1970s or the early 1980s; I only remember that hardly anybody used ’em. Why risk your hard-earned money on a “fallible” computer when you could deal with a competent human being you could talk to?

The same thing happened when e-commerce first appeared. The idea of entering your credit card information onto a website in order to buy something seemed…overwhelming! Was it safe? Would the thing I just ordered even arrive? How long would it take? Why not just go to the store like everyone else, buy something, pay for it, and take it home?

We were so naive back then, weren’t we? It just took us a decade or so to get used to the “new normal,” and now everything is so much easier, faster, and more convenient.

So is paywall streaming TV the “new normal”?

Continue reading “First STAR TREK, then THE EXPANSE, now THE ORVILLE…is this the beginning of the end for “free” TV sci-fi???”

SD Comic Con PICARD Trailer 2019 vs SD Comic Con DISCOVERY Trailer 2016 – What has CBS learned…?

It’s hard to believe that it was only three years ago that fan got their first glimpse of the new STAR TREK: DISCOVERY at San Diego Comic Con 2016. And when I say got our first glimpse, I don’t mean of the show itself. That wouldn’t happen until the following summer. I mean we got our first look at what a disorganized mess CBS was in dealing with the launch of their first-ever Star Trek TV series that would also be the first-ever Trek series to air only on subscription-based services (All Access, SpaceTV, and Netflix).

Let’s take a moment to compare the two Star Trek series trailers that premiered at San Diego Comic Con to give fans their first look at the new show. The first debuted in July of 2016…

The Discovery trailer was obviously a rush job. The marketing department knew they needed something to show at Comic Con because that has become THE place to premiere the big sci-fi and related genre movies and shows. But there was nothing ready yet! No footage had been shot because, unbelievably, no actors had yet been cast! The sets and uniforms were still being designed.

Remember that, at the time this trailer was first screened for fans, Discovery was still scheduled to debut in January of 2017…just six months after Comic Con. As a comparison, the new STAR TREK: PICARD series is currently set to premiere in January 2020—just six months after Comic Con. So really, no one (especially CBS) should have been surprised when Discovery ended up launching nine months behind schedule.

Still, desperate to show SOMETHING, the show-runners of Discovery decided to render out a quick CGI animation revealing the look of the new starship. Of course, even the ship wasn’t fully designed yet…as you can see from the “rocket” nacelles and the fact that the saucer section was still all one piece. But at least CBS would have something to get the fans excited. (Whether or not it succeeded is still up for debate.)

But what isn’t up for debate is how excited Trekkers have been for the last few days after seeing the extended trailer for Star Trek: Picard that debuted this past Saturday at Comic Con…

What a difference three years makes, huh?

Let’s take a trip down Memory Lane (no relation to me) and look back at the CBS of 2016 versus 2019 and what has changed for Star Trek in that time…

Continue reading “SD Comic Con PICARD Trailer 2019 vs SD Comic Con DISCOVERY Trailer 2016 – What has CBS learned…?”

Why the finale of ST: DISCOVERY left me feeling ANGRY and BETRAYED (editorial review)

SPOILERS MAKE YOU A BETTER PERSON!

Before I begin blasting away at the season two finale of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, I will give credit where credit is due. The entire production team obviously worked VERY hard to make “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2” a fast-paced, well-acted, and visually stunning hour of television. It wrapped up a very complex season-long story arc without leaving any loose ends (that I noticed), and it was certainly an ambitious undertaking.

But as a Trekkie and, more basically, as a viewer, I finished the episode feeling angry and, to be honest, betrayed. And I’d like to tell you why.

Writers and their audiences make an “agreement” going in, a pact of trust, if you will. The writers ask that we viewers buy into what the writers are setting up in the narrative, and in exchange, the writers will create a compelling, suspenseful, emotionally engaging story to entertain us.

But in this episode, I felt that the tail (or the tale) was wagging the dog. The writers had to include certain scenes in order to cover the necessary tropes of an exciting, explosive season finale: death of a major character, cavalry to the rescue scene, hand-to-hand fight with the bad guy, etc. Nothing wrong with that in theory. But in order to hit those beats, the writers way too often had to violate the trust of the viewer. And it’s NOT simply that some scenes are inconsistent with “established” Star Trek canon. I’ve learned to expect that from this show, and I’ve mostly made my peace with it.

No, I am talking about violating the canon that the writers have already set up for themselves. And when I see these kinds of “sloppy” scenes (and there were a LOT of them this episode), I can only assume the writers simply don’t care that they’re writing something that makes no sense within their own narrative…either that or they think that their viewers don’t care.

Well, I care. And that’s why I’m sharing this longer-than-normal blog with you today…

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The SHIPS hit the FANS on STAR TREK: DISCOVERY! (editorial review)

SPOILERS ARE JUST MY WAY OF SHOWING LOVE!

At first, I was thinking of titling this blog “The Big Good-bye” or “The Long Good-bye” or “We Get It Already—Everybody Is Saying Good-bye!” I also considered, “That’s Not Orange, Dammit; It’s Red!” But in the end, I didn’t want to sound harsh because it implies that I didn’t think this was a good episode.

The penultimate 13th episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s second season, “Sweet Sorrow,” wasn’t a bad episode…far and away not! It finally showed us a redesigned bridge of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 that didn’t feel like an Apple Store. In fact, I wanted to grab a Klingon time crystal, take this bridge back to 2007, kidnap J.J. Abrams, and shout: “THIS!!!!” In fact—looking at the uniforms, the handles in the Enterprise turbolift, the sounds of the bridge and the photon torpedoes, etc.—it might not be a bad idea to take a time detour to 2016, kidnap Bryan Fuller and whoever was the original production designer on Discovery, and shout, “THIS!!!!” even louder.

So yes, I liked the Enterprise and the people in it. And I just signed the Change.org petition to CBS trying to convince them to do a new CAPTAIN PIKE series on the Enterprise in pre-TOS. Serious no-brainer, CBS: don’t let Anson Mount get away!!!

But this episode also suffered from a number of weaknesses…many of them stemming from the fact that the season was originally set to be 13 episodes and, early on, a decision was made to stretch the finale into two parts. And there’s no doubt that the last episode will be an amazing, budget-blowing WOW!-fest. And about half of this episode was equally stunning. But there was also a lot—a LOT!—of filler. And ultimately, this episode felt (to me, at least), like being the passenger with a student driver who is constantly accelerating and then hitting the brakes hard and then repeating the process.

So for the next-to-last time this season, let’s dive into my thoughts on an episode of Discovery

Continue reading “The SHIPS hit the FANS on STAR TREK: DISCOVERY! (editorial review)”